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North Dakota School District Ready to Make Bold Changes

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Topics: Education Policy

By Nia Baucke

By the fall of 2020, the entire Northern Cass School District in North Dakota will move to a competency-based education model. Students will chart their own academic courses to high school graduation and will stay with same-age peers for things like gym class and field trips. Even more notable, the district plans to eliminate all grade levels.

“We can’t keep structures that would allow us to fall back into a more traditional system,” said Northern Cass superintendent, Cory Steiner, in a recent interview with Chris Berdik of the Hechinger Report.

The overarching goal? Stop the “one-size fits all” model of education where students are limited by seat time and instead adopt a competency-based model that personalizes the learning needs of each student better allowing for support and acceleration of learning.

This daunting but promising transformation by Northern Cass is made possible through the passage of SB 2186 in 2017.  This policy allows to apply for waivers from specific state education requirements, such as seat time and traditional course sequencing, through an innovation plan. (Details of Northern Cass’ plans can be found in What’s school without grade levels? One district’s drive to teach competencies means eliminating age-based classrooms from Hechinger Report.)

The passage of the bill was no small effort. After multiple public engagements and conversations and bill drafts, North Dakota’s newly elected governor, the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI), North Dakota School Boards Association, North Dakota United, North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders, North Dakota Chamber of Commerce, students and parents co-developed a policy that they believe will open the door for more innovative, student-centered learning opportunities. KnowledgeWorks worked alongside NDDPI and other advocates to ensure the bill met the state’s unique vision for innovation in education.

Many districts plan on taking advantage of the flexibility the state’s innovation law affords. The state will continue partnering with KnowledgeWorks to ensure that teachers, administrators and education advocates have the support they need to implement at strategic plan for personalized learning.

Interested in learning more about our work to transform state policy to personalize learning for students?